One of my favorite college teachers once shared a piece of valuable advice from her mother: Never enter a room apologizing.
Sure, “sorry” has its place. The problem is that the phrase is widely overused, which minimizes its sincerity and impact.
International business speaker and author Michael Kerr has this to say in a Business Insider story titled “12 Times You Shouldn’t Say ‘I’m sorry’ at Work”: “Some people just use ‘I’m sorry’ as a filler phrase, like ‘so’ or ‘um,’ or they may use it because they think it makes them seem more polite,” explains Kerr. “Others say ‘I’m sorry’ to convey a sense of deference to their superiors – and many use a well-placed ‘I’m sorry’ as a preemptive strike to avoid taking responsibility for their actions (‘I’m really sorry, but there’s just no way I can get this report done by Monday’).
Forego apologies in these scenarios (view full list):
When you really aren’t sorry.
We’ve all witnessed the classic “non-apology apology” where someone thinks they’ve said they’re sorry, but they really haven’t.
“Dogs can tell when we’re not being sincere, so if your ‘I’m sorry’ drips with sarcasm or oozes insincerity and you’re merely saying it because you think it will make the problem go away or get you out of the doghouse, then don’t say it,” Kerr advises. “Leave it for when you genuinely are sorry and want to convey ownership over an issue.”
When you are genuinely upset over someone’s bad behavior.
“I’m sorry, but you just can’t make sexist comments like that in here.”
“The person who should be saying they’re sorry is the person making the sexist comment, not you for holding them to task,” Kerr explains. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ minimizes your own feelings and plants the seed that perhaps, just maybe, you’re the one who should be sorry.”
Before you ask a favor of someone.
“I’m sorry, but would you mind helping me?” or “I hate to have to ask, but could you help me with …?” are horrible ways to preface a request.
If you’re really that sorry or feel that badly about it, you wouldn’t be asking.
Just jump right into the request, or start with a compliment, like, “I know you’re great with Excel. Would you mind helping me with this spreadsheet?”